How to Use Polymer Clay Canes

Intricate black and white polymer clay designs
Polymer clay canes can be as basic in construction as a jelly roll or as elaborate as one of Jayne Dwyer’s pictorial masterpieces. Cane slices are used singly, layered in groups, or joined edge to edge to create large veneer sheets. As we navigate our way through the maze of techniques in creating these canes, we need to consider what they will be used for. Wearable Art: In the modern world of polymer clay, we are quite used to seeing slices of canes made into fanciful jewelry – especially earrings. Also common is using the slices to cover round or tube beads which are then turned into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Making sheets of veneer from the cane slices allows for a wider variety of shapes and sizes. Incorporating several methods of cane usage and other polymer techniques adds a wide breadth of interest to these pieces. With the re-advent of interest in crafts such as knitting and sewing, beautiful polymer clay cane buttons can be made to match any color scheme or pattern. Choosing a traditional pattern such as bargello for beautiful buttons will add elegance and unique style to a simple knit sweater. Metal shanks for these buttons are available so the finished look is smooth and professional. Functional Art: Surrounding ourselves with beautiful creations is easy when using kaleidoscope canes. A kaleidoscope cane combines several smaller canes together. This bowl shows 6 slices of a complex triangular kaleidoscope cane joined together and baked over a mold for support. The endless variety of colors and patterns can be used for many practical items from ring bowls and coasters to small vessels. A harmonious color scheme for these canes is probably the most important aspect of a successful project. Incorporating hand-rolled and extruder elements into the master cane adds a challenge, but is well worth the time investment. Glass vases and ornaments work nicely as the base for cane slices which are fit together like a jigsaw puzzle as shown in this example. Overlapping the edges of these slices just slightly and smoothing with an acrylic roller produces a seamless veneer. The clay adheres to the glass for easy application. For larger vases a veneer sheet can be created from the individual slices and then wrapped around the vessel, being careful to line up the pattern so that no seam is visible. The uncured veneer can be adjusted to stretch or shrink depending on the shape of the vessel being covered. Upcycling plain glass vases into works of art provides a beautiful addition to any décor. Sculptural Art: Mixed media sculpture applications range from simple ornaments to large woven baskets decorated with polymer clay accents. Most of these projects required a certain amount of “engineering” to make sure they were structurally sound. While polymer clay has a certain amount of elasticity when baked correctly, it is still clay and breakable. To protect the sculpture from being damaged it is wise to incorporate some form of armature into the piece. My favorite freeform sculptured bird ornaments show the wire legs and tails, but also include wire going through the entire body and into the beaks, thus adding stability to the bird. Once the bird is baked the decorating can begin. Feather canes are made from a variety of techniques, but I use largely extruder components. Cane slices are chosen carefully for each bird ornament and layered onto the base sculpture. No two birds are ever the same, either in sculpture or cane feathers. Combining wire and polymer clay in sculptural pieces opens a huge new avenue of creativity. A plain, woven wire basket now becomes a unique piece of art with the addition of the clay decorations. Micro-mosaic canes are squared off so that slices can be matched up to create patterns for larger veneers. Just by rotating cane edges you can create several variations in the veneers. These same cane slices can then be used for items such as the shawl pins which are tucked into the gradient cone at the top of the basket. The shawl pins have an alternate function as a decorative basket element. Wall Art: Cane mapping is a technique perfected by Alice Stroppel which uses the individual cane slices joined together to create a finished piece of art. Cane mapping can be in the form of wall art or can be used to cover pieces of furniture as well. The slices are visible in the mapping process and not joined together as a veneer sheet. Shapes are adjusted in order to fit it to the design being created. Quilting is the term given to the process of joining a minimum of three layers of fabric together. Polymer quilting is the joining of 3 layers of clay using the natural adhesiveness of the clay to bond them into a quilt. The top layer is the veneer, the middle layer supports several veneers joined together so the seams do not split apart, and the backing layer is applied once the quilt is completed. A pattern is created for these quilts and the veneers are cut to fit the pattern pieces. Each quilt piece is framed by a thin border of clay as the quilt is assembled. Once the quilt is finished being pieced together it is mounted in either a frame or on a stretched canvas to display as it is too thin to stand alone. Coordinating the cane slice veneers with other elements such as gradient veneers can produce lovely results. The many uses of polymer clay canes provide a great deal of artistic challenge and is only limited by the artist’s imagination. Combining the canes with mixed media truly opens a world of discovery and enjoyment for the artist.
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